Literacy Tips

Literacy Tip of the Week: January 12, 2020

posted Jan 13, 2020, 5:13 AM by Steven Richardson

Can whole-class instruction take the place of guided reading?

I totally endorse and encourage whole-class reading instruction, but I don’t think it can take the place of guided reading. There is a seductive efficiency to whole-class instruction that says we can save time by giving every child the same lesson. The reality, however, is that the few children who respond appropriately may be "getting it," but the others are not. Even those who respond correctly during the read aloud may have problems transferring that strategy to a text they read independently. Guided reading is the bridge between whole-class instruction and independent processing. I recommend that teachers model a comprehension strategy with a read aloud or short text during whole-class instruction, and then thread that strategy into guided reading in which the children are doing most of the work -- not the teacher. Whole-class instruction can never achieve the differentiation and scaffolding found in a teacher-led guided reading lesson.

Literacy Tip of the Week: January 6, 2020

posted Jan 6, 2020, 6:45 AM by Steven Richardson   [ updated Jan 6, 2020, 6:45 AM ]

Don’t Be Fooled:  Accurate Word Recognition DOESN’T equal Comprehension.


Many think that comprehension is the natural by-product of accurate word recognition. Just because students can read the words, however, doesn’t mean they understand what they read. Many students are given comprehension assignments asking them to respond to questions, but these activities are void of instruction on how to comprehend using the critical strategies. Comprehension can be taught through interactive read-alouds as well as during guided reading instruction.  

Character analysis is a powerful means for teaching students to make inferences.  During training, we examine the pages in Jan’s book for techniques to support the teaching of character analysis. I model for the teachers, we do it together, then teachers apply these techniques to text they are using with students. 

Rereading is a powerful contributor to comprehension. Reading material once for the gist is parallel to writing a first draft. Rereading is the process that contributes to developing deeper understanding. Expect students to reread a guided reading text as a meaningful follow-up task. You are helping them strengthen their comprehension. 

Written by: Sophie Kowzun, page turner consulting,

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 23, 2019

posted Dec 23, 2019, 7:57 AM by Steven Richardson   [ updated Dec 23, 2019, 8:09 AM ]

Michèle Dufresne answers questions on word study.

Teaching Tip

Check out literacy expert Michèle Dufresne's teaching tip this month, featuring real strategies you can use!

In November, Jan Richardson and Michèle Dufresne hosted their first webinar, where they answered a range of questions about word study. It has been posted here if you haven't had a chance to watch it!

There were many questions they couldn’t get to, so Michèle has picked a few to answer in this month's teaching tip.

Copyright © 2019
Pioneer Valley Books, All rights reserved.

unsubscribe from this list • update subscription preferences • forward to a friend 

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 16, 2019

posted Dec 16, 2019, 4:47 AM by Steven Richardson

Michele and I will be holding office hours for 30 minutes each month to talk about literacy. This evening at 7 p.m. EST we will be sharing suggestions and tips for teaching comprehension during guided reading. Specifically, we will focus on using the progressive steps I’ve outlined in chapter 7 of my book, Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. To order the book, click here.

After a brief introduction to the topic, we will answer questions live during the session. If you aren’t able to join us this evening, you’ll be able to watch the webinar for free once it has been uploaded. Click here for more information and our office hours.

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 8, 2019

posted Dec 8, 2019, 7:28 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated Dec 9, 2019, 4:52 AM ]

Do Fluent Readers Need Guided Reading?

I recently had a video conference with a group of teachers in Singapore.  They are just getting started with Guided Reading, but are enthusiastic about taking this next step in their literacy instruction. One of their questions was whether fluent readers really need guided reading. Fluent readers might be good decoders, but they still benefit from explicit instruction in comprehension strategies.  When they read self-selected books, they are often reading at their independent level. Since the text is easy, they are rarely required to engage in strategic actions. When we give students a complex text during guided reading, students encounter challenging vocabulary and sentence structures. They might be reading about a topic that is not part of their background knowledge. That is when they need to employ a variety of strategic actions to construct meaning. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 1, 2019

posted Dec 1, 2019, 7:08 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated Dec 13, 2019, 12:40 PM ]

Mining for Comprehension in Low-Level Books

When I select a book at any text level, I look for one that supports a comprehension conversation--both at the literal and deeper level.  It is fairly easy to find good books at level C and higher since they usually have a story; however, the books at levels A and B have patterned texts such as I can, I see, We like, etc. Still, there are discussion prompts that can work with most patterned texts. For instance:

1. Retell - What did you read? Children can always retell what they read. Although this is a low-level comprehension skill, it does build working memory.

2. Favorite part - What is your favorite page? Tell us why you like that page? This taps into personal experiences and preferences.

3. Connections - What is in this book that you like to do (or eat, or play on, etc.)? What connections can you make to this book? Does this book remind you another book we've read? Kids can make connections with a read aloud book or another guided reading book. I'll often have the other book on hand so we can flip through the pages to refresh their memory.

4. Comparisons - Find two things in this book that are different and tell how they are different. Find two things in this book that are similar and tell how they are the same.  This prompt works for a lot of low-level books, and it digs into deeper thinking.  Kids can compare two fruits, two animals, two kinds of playground equipment, etc.. Here's an example --  Tap on the "Read Online" button to view the insides of the book.  It is an awesome feature that I use in presentations.

5. Inferences - Ask a Why ... question.  I find a picture that I could ask a why question about. In this book called, Looking Out, (, I could ask, "Why does Bella like to look out the window?"

6. Text features - One of my favorite things about Pioneer Valley is the text features they add for their nonfiction books, especially Explore the World series. Here is a link to the Monarch Butterfly. Go to the "read online" link to view the insides of the book. We could discuss the diagram on pages 4-5 (How does a butterfly use its legs or antennae?), or the illustration that shows the formation of the chrysalis on pages 13-14, the emergence of the butterfly on pages 15-16, or the fold-out of the lifecycle. All of the Explore the World books have these amazing text features that can be mined for comprehension discussions.

7. Photographs - Occasionally I'll find a great discussion prompt by examining the photos.  In this Level B Pioneer Valley book, called The Walk, the text is patterned and simple. At first glance, there doesn't appear to be much to discuss. However, if you examine the photos, you will notice the text is told from two perspectives -- the dog walker and the dog. 

8. Asking questions - Although typically I ask questions to stimulate discussion, I love to invite the students to find a page and ask their own questions. I often have to model and then scaffold by providing question starters, but it is an important comprehension strategy that children will use for the rest of their lives.

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 24, 2019

posted Nov 24, 2019, 7:39 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated Dec 8, 2019, 7:18 PM ]

 Be Thankful

As Thanksgiving approaches, remember to give thanks for your faith, family, friends--and the fabulous students you teach every day.

My son recently shared with me a list of “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.” It’s taken from an article in Psychology Today magazine. 

1.     Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.

2.    Gratitude improves physical health.

3.    Gratitude improves psychological health.

4.    Gratitude improves empathy and reduces aggression.

5.    Grateful people sleep better.

6.    Gratitude improves self-esteem.

7.    Gratitude improves mental strength. (


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us looked for something (and someone) to be thankful for each day? 

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 17, 2019

posted Nov 17, 2019, 12:48 PM by Emily Richardson   [ updated Nov 17, 2019, 12:49 PM ]

A Word of Advice to Literacy Coaches

When I work with a district, I almost always recommend on-site coaching. However, coaches need to be well trained on the purpose and procedures of each guided reading component. They need to have good interpersonal skills, and they need to understand the strengths and growth needs of their teachers. One concept I emphasize is to offer a variety of professional development opportunities so teachers can choose how they want to learn. Opportunities can be offered district-wide or among teachers in a single school. Maria Kampen writes: “Formal settings include conferences, courses, seminars, retreats and workshops. Informal opportunities for teacher professional development include independent research or investigation, peer learning initiatives or even just chatting with a colleague in the staff room."

Every time I work with teachers and students, I learn something. Never quit learning and growing!

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 10, 2019

posted Nov 10, 2019, 7:13 PM by Emily Richardson   [ updated Nov 17, 2019, 12:40 PM ]

Confessions of a Running Record Junkie

I confess. I'm addicted to running records. I can't listen to a child read without having a pencil so I can record reading behaviors and strategic actions. Why am I hooked? It's all about responsive teaching. Running records are a window to a child's processing system. Once I understand what a reader does at difficulty, I can respond to that student's needs.

But running records are time-consuming. How can we take running records without sacrificing valuable instructional time? The answer is to embed running records into our guided reading lessons. I take a short running record on each student on Day 1. It helps me know if the book is too easy or too hard. It guides my teaching point for the group. On Day 2, I often take a running record on a single student while the others are rereading the text I introduced the day before. This tells me if my teaching had an impact on the student's reading. Did the student notice an error he or she made on Day 1? What strategic actions did the student use to construct meaning? 

I don't take a running record on an entire book - just a few pages where I would expect the student to engage in strategic processing. I quickly analyze the reader so I can praise him or her for problem solving or respond to some aspect of the reading process that the student is neglecting.

So, may I cordially invite you to get hooked with me on running records?

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 3, 2019

posted Nov 3, 2019, 7:05 PM by Emily Richardson

Help! I have too many guided reading groups.

This past week a second-grade teacher in Wisconsin asked me for advice in reducing the number of her guided reading groups. Based on her students’ reading text levels, she had ten groups! Here are some tips I gave her:

1.     Use the Assessment Summary Charts found in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading to summarize the data on individual students. There is a chart for each reading stage, pre-A through fluent. You can download the free charts from

2.     As you form instructional groups, consider a range of instructional text levels. Students are rarely at one specific level. Look beyond the accuracy level and analyze fluency, the types of errors, and the student’s comprehension. skills. 

3.     After you’ve determined instructional ranges and analyzed your students’ strengths and needs, form groups based on your focus. For instance, you might have a group of students reading at text levels D/E who need to improve accuracy and fluency and another group at H/I who need help with comprehension. 

4.     If a student doesn’t fit well into any of your groups, teach that student individually with the 10-minute lesson plan or work with your teammates to share and exchange students.

5.     Consider regrouping every few weeks. As your students make progress, update the assessment summary chart and create new groupings. Keep your groups flexible and targeted. 


As for the second-grade teacher -- by using text level ranges and considering the processing strengths and needs of her students, we were able to form four groups, a much more manageable number. She left with a smile, eager to begin teaching guided reading. 


Always remember to Assess – Decide – Guide so that every student becomes a better reader.

1-10 of 199